Nova Scotia

Canadian war brides holding weekend reunion in Halifax

The weekend reunion marks 70 years since the majority of the approximately 45,000 women who married Canadian soldiers during the Second World War arrived in Halifax to start a new life.

Reunion marks 70 years since young brides first arrived at Pier 21

War bride Joan Reichardt walks down the street in Saskatoon, Sask., shortly after her arrival in Canada in 1946. (Submitted by Joan Reichardt)

Canada's war brides are gathering in Halifax for a reunion this weekend to mark the place where the majority of the women first set foot on Canadian soil 70 years ago.

The war brides are a group of approximately 45,000 women who married Canadian soldiers during the Second World War and moved to Canada to start a new life here. The women came from all over Europe, although the vast majority were British.

Most travelled by ship to Pier 21 in Halifax and then boarded trains for communities across Canada.

'It was sort of astonishing'

Joan Reichardt, a war bride and president of the Canadian War Brides and Families Association, arrived in Halifax on Victoria Day in 1946 after travelling by boat from her home in London, England.

"There were bands and I, in my innocence and naivité, thought they were actually welcoming us," she said.

War bride Joan Reichardt experiences her first winter in Saskatoon after arriving in Canada from London, England. (Submitted by Joan Reichardt)

Reichardt remembers how different the landscape looked from war-torn London.

"It was sort of astonishing to look at all of these buildings that from our perspective [were] looking relatively new," she said. "Untouched and unblemished."

Reichardt says many of the war brides were homesick and found the transition difficult.

'Armada of optimism'

"For some of us, however, we were young and foolish. We were, of course, head over heels in love with these young men that we had married, and it was an adventure. We were coming to a new country and everything was going to be wonderful and marvellous," she said.

Reichardt says she likes to refer to the war bride ships as the "armada of optimism" because they were leaving behind the bombings and extreme food and clothing shortages.

"We were coming to what we'd dreamed of all through the war — peace and plenty," she said.

'Overwhelming expanse of land'

Reichardt says she remembers boarding the train in Halifax at 18 years old and travelling through a "wild, wide-open, overwhelming expanse of land" that was untidy.

She disembarked in Saskatoon where, like her fellow war brides, she was met by a young man — her new husband — who she'd never seen in civilian clothing.

Then, there was "the ordeal" of meeting the in-laws who were the only family members she had on this side of the Atlantic.

Last reunion ever?

The bulk of Canada's war brides arrived in 1946, so they're in their 80s and 90s now. Many have already died, Reichardt says.

She estimates one in 30 Canadians has a war bride in their family tree.

Reichardt says approximately 150 people are expected to attend the Friday to Sunday reunion at the Westin Nova Scotian hotel in Halifax, but only about 25 of those will be war brides.

The event is not being billed as the last reunion ever, but at 88, Reichardt says it's getting more difficult to travel from her home in Nelson, B.C. — and this may be a last hurrah.

She says the reunions over the years have been invaluable.

We get to "laugh and bitch and complain and reminisce," said Reichardt. "Nobody understands like another war bride."